November 13, 2013
if you’re a crafter
with any internet presence,
you’ll remember an ‘incident’ in 2012
when one of my favorite bloggers, completely cauchy,
got some heat for a guest post she wrote on whipup (now, sadly, defunct)
that included an image of a quilt
with a provocative word on it.
some people went a little crazy after seeing it,
but i applauded it (and reblogged it)
because for me,
it was a work of art
and a genius work at that.
i emailed cauchy
with an idea
after a lot of emails
and more than a year of work and thought,
the quilt is now complete.
(to be clear, i only gave the word; she did everything else)
because some may consider it nsfw,
you’ll have to scroll down to have a look.
if you have a delicate constitution
or an aversion to potential controversy
now is the time to exit.
after the image is a mini interview with cauchy about the project.
after reading it, head on over to her blog where she interviews me.
on the quilt is a word that’s especially powerful to me,
and my take on it and the issues surrounding it
are likely different from a lot of yours.
so there is but one disclaimer:
you are entitled to your opinion on the piece, but this blog is my house.
if you start acting a fool in the comments
they will be deleted.
it seems like your crafting, whether it’s a deeply thought-out expression of a philosophical idea (as with the fuck quilt or the n-word quilt) or making a knitted stuffed bunny, everything is ultimately an expression of you. your life, your tastes, your thoughts, what makes you happy. what was it like to have the seed of an idea given to you from someone else? and how did you put yourself into this work (if at all)?
I’ve tried things like testing patterns (in knitting and quilting) and even a fully-dictated commission or two and found that there’s something far too confining to me in those situations. It always feels like dungeon crafting at the behest of a whip-cracker. However, you just provided the kernel of an idea by just putting one word before me. To begin, I had to check you out, observing your blog and other social media interactions to learn more about the requester. Once you seemed fairly reputable, I felt like I had to give it a try by living with the idea long enough for it to begin to feel like my own. Honestly, I don’t think it’s reached that status completely, but we’ll discuss that more later.
How did I put myself into the work? Well, the use of such a word expressed in quilt form is the beginning, of course. Not too many folks are doing that at all. But, definitely the picnic theme came from within; it’s a darkly comedic approach rather than resorting to the more obvious forms that might come to mind. That is, I played with dusty pinks and purples in a flouncy font, for example. But that seemed one-dimensional and too easy–too easy for me and too easy for a viewer. The final form is the result of a year of rumination and conveys more of my own internalization of the seed of the idea–it came to me at breakfast one Saturday, I sketched and started impulsively sewing within a few minutes.
i requested that you make this quilt after the inclusion of your n-word quilt on your whip-up post almost two years ago. i had a very visceral response to that whole internet encounter, but even more so to the quilt itself. obviously, faggot doesn’t have the same personal effect for you as the n-word but what does it make you feel? what is your reaction to it?
As a Southerner, I hear these words in my mind in the most countrified accent. Those double g’s in both words are lingered over. In the n-word, the “errrrrrr” drawls on and hangs in the air, while the ending of our f-word, the “ot!,” comes out as a hard and violent pop like a firecracker. Both words bring an element of fear since my first experiences of them were in threatening situations. And I tend to assume that one who uses our f-word would also use the n-word, actually, and vice versa. And these words tend not to be followed up with coffee and cupcakes.
The first time I heard our f-word it was hurled at a neighbor kid who was always bullied in middle school. I had no idea what the word meant nor why it was used. But the force behind the yelling and the teasing that surrounded the incident only incited fear in me. Ever the nerd, I looked it up in the dictionary right when I got home from school. It was puzzling… why is he a bundle of sticks? It took quite a while to get a full explanation out of my parents.
in our exchanges during this process you mentioned some reticence to making this quilt because (correct me if i’m wrong) the word faggot wasn’t “yours” to quilt. can you talk a little bit about that? and what ultimately made you agree to make this quilt?
Yes, indeed. I started this body of work as an exploration of my identity as viewed by others. The concept is simple. With the quilts or comforters one chooses to buy from department stores, one expresses some portion of one’s self-image. Albeit there is a limited selection (one is confined to the choices made available by current industrial-scale designers), one chooses a style and builds a decor accordingly. What do those choices project about one? And, in turn, how can one project oneself into a quilt?
The words that first came to mind for me were: oreo, bitch, princess, and the n-word. While the n-word quilt ultimately was an angry cathartic project, the others were light-hearted and playful explorations. And eventually I’d go on to give c*nt a try and that is probably the best of the series so far. These are words that are personal and for which I have clear personal experiences that give me license to use and illustrate them. Initially and throughout my one-year deliberations on our f-word, it just seemed to me that I wasn’t allowed to use the f-word. I’d even been accused of racism on that Whip-Up post, by commenters who just assumed I wasn’t black and therefore was not allowed to go anywhere near usage of the n-word. So I had to pause to think. One must quilt responsibly, right?
I gotta say that 2012 was the perfect year to be in this perpetual tailspin: the nation was finally moving forward on marriage equality. Amid daily immersion in this civil rights movement, I was making sure to steep myself in history and, at the same time, just happened to revisit Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, first by finally viewing the beautiful mini-series with Jeremy Irons and, second, by nipping into the novel again to recall contexts. Volumes have been written analyzing the characters, their relationships, and the religious themes of the novel so I’ll refrain here. For me this reading in 2012 brought on visceral feelings of social contrasts of all sorts and I reveled in the joy of the early moments of Charles and Sebastian’s relationship. All of this led to finally acknowledging the anger and frustration I feel about the entrenched resistance to this equality movement.
It slowly dawned on me that our f-word is part of my world and my AmericanExperience. My reticence was right because I want to avoid offending (to a certain extent) but I have a right to use this f-word responsibly for the same reasons that I defend others’ rights to use it. [First Amendment for all, my friend.]
Now, even though I claimed ownership of the vocabulary, I remain wary in ways I cannot articulate.
i know you put a lot of time and thought into this project; it’s been almost two years in the planning/making. can you talk a little bit about the process? both technical as well as what the making made you think or feel?
My “process” for quilt design differs with each project. While most are improvisational and/or impulsive, this one started out as a long deliberation that built up to an impulsive move. I started sketching whenever ideas came to me, a practice I rarely indulge in. On my cutting table, there’s a pile of old receipts, boarding passes and envelopes that explore this one concept. Each idea has some potential, but never compelled me to start stitching; see purple-pink example above.
But then one day I woke up ready, I did a mock up on my computer over coffee, and it just felt right. The only certainty I could articulate was that the instinctual simplicity of the design was what was missing in previous versions. Technically, this is traditional Quaker sampler design executed with simple and efficient sewing.
While sewing, I thought quite a bit about the bullied neighbor kid and another dear friend of the family with whom I’ve lost contact. There was so much about them that I now realize I was too young and too oblivious to understand at the time–ten year-olds shouldn’t have to know everything, of course. All I knew was they were nice folks who, in my presence, incurred wrath expressed through this word.
do you have any idea what your next “word” quilt might be?
Well, since I tend to embark on these projects impulsively, I cannot be sure. There are ideas always on my mind, but none have risen up to need to been made yet. That’s not such a satisfying answer? Let’s just say that one of these designs involves the word “fingerpainting” in an unexpected way.
thank you, cauchy, so much.
this collaboration has meant more to me than you can know.
i’ll cherish the quilt forever.
and don’t forget to read the companion post on completely cauchy!